Rediscovered symphony to be heard again

Work discovered in Edinburgh University archives


A long-lost symphonic tribute to the city of Edinburgh is receiving its first performance for 80 years tomorrow. Harpist Julia Somerville will perform an extract from the work by the Dutch-German composer Julius Röntgen in the Exhibition Room in the University Library at 10.30am, with a full performance planned for the near future.


Röntgen’s symphony appears to have been dedicated to Edinburgh University in response to an honorary degree bestowed upon him in 1930. He died only two years later.

The work was rediscovered recently by music scholar Richard Witts during his research of Sir Donald Francis Tovey’s archive. Sir Donald, an eminent musicologist, composer and pianist who died in 1940, was a friend of Röntgen and Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University. From a glance at the archives, it appears he conducted the symphony’s only performance in 1930, directing the Reid Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble he founded in 1917.

The relatively unknown Julius Röntgen was a close friend and associate of Johannes Brahms (Röntgen performed Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto in 1887, conducted by the composer himself) and was friendly also with Edvard Grieg, who dedicated his Op. 54 Lyric Pieces to him.

Röntgen was a prolific composer, writing in what could best be described as a late-Romantic style – his works bear the influence of Schumann, Grieg, Brahms, and, in his later works, Reger. The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, however, appears to suggest that his ‘Edinburgh’ Symphony may contain an element of Debussy’s ‘impressionist’ style.


Among his works are 21 symphonies, seven piano concertos, two violin concertos and many chamber works and songs.